r.i.p dfw

September 17, 2008

David foster Wallace killed himself this past weekend. I have been feeling really sad about it. Sad for him and his family. For his friends and his students. And sad to loose his voice. I’m sad we won’t be able to grow old with his voice growing old in our lives. I just started reading some of his essays this summer and I was pretty blown away by his writing. This excerpt is from a commencement speech he gave at Kenyon this past spring:

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible — sounds like “displayal”]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.


3 responses to “r.i.p dfw”

  1. ned says:

    Infinite Jest has been sitting on my self recently, though I hadn’t really planned to try it out anytime soon – too daunting. I saw that he’d died, and then that he’d committed suicide, but don’t know much more about him. He sounds like his essays (and books) are worth reading.

  2. proteanme says:

    there’s a couple great essays that capture the midwest so well – one on the illinois state fair and one on playing tennis. they are in the collection, a supposedly fun thing i’ll never do again. like i said i’m not a fan of his fiction. but i am fan the man.

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